Learning to share

Creative writing, Critique, Friends, Voice

I used to be scared of sharing my creative writing. Why? There’s probably four reasons here; lack of confidence, fear of failure (criticism and people hating my writing), inexperience and a little arrogance.

On my MA course, I have rapidly learnt not to be scared of criticism and to go outside of my comfort zone by sharing my work. Our module group is extremely supportive and provides positive criticism on where my work is and isn’t working. For the ‘isn’t’ side, you can of course choose to take it onboard or to say ‘thanks very much’ but stick to your guns. It is after all your story, and you may feel passionately that your work should follow a particular direction. However, if a lot of people are picking up on the same things, it’s usually worth investigating and amending.

On a recent assignment, I decided to write a short story on an internet troll getting his comeuppance. It was a tricky and challenging piece of work where I had to undertake a lot of research into online trolling. I also had to get into the ‘head’ of 19-year-old male troll which, I’ll be honest, took a lot out of me. I had to explore areas that I found repulsive and very upsetting online. And then the New Zealand Mosque attacks happened and I didn’t want to continue. But I had an assignment due in and encouragement from my fellow students, and also a big hole in the ending where many of them were commenting on it ‘just didn’t work’ for them.

In my original drafts, the protagonist narrated his own story but died at the end. Many students didn’t like this aspect and felt it was a little bit of a cop out. I felt strongly that the main character should get his comeuppance as his behaviour and trolling was so heinous, so I decided to instead commit him to an online ‘purgatory’; he became part of the internet, buzzing, static, overwhelmed by cat videos, shouting and pornography, unable to escape, completely powerless. This was a much stronger end, rather than just killing him. My inspiration here was the latest season of American Gods with the digital new Gods. Except this character isn’t a God, he just gets sucked in and stuck there forever.

I no longer fear criticism. It has grown me as a writer. I actively encourage feedback, and often send my work to my friends now to read. I ask them first! I am lucky to have two – three close friends who I know will be honest critics. One friend simply said to me the other day ‘Keep going’ and that means the world to me.